What to vote on the 18th September

Lots of people ask me how I’m going to vote, and it’s the primary topic of conversation both inside Scotland, and whenever I’m travelling abroad. Those who know me, know that I’ve been a member of the Scottish National Party for more than 30 years, and so assume that I’ll be voting Yes. But I didn’t find it that easy to decide. Indeed I vacillated for a long time.

The biggest arguments against are economic and financial. There’s the issues of a currency, of whether an independent Scotland would be poorer or richer, of whether industry would rune a mile, or run towards Scotland, of whether the banks currently headquartered in  Edinburgh would move their headquarters south, and so on. There are arguments and counter-arguments, and it’s not really possible to know who to believe. My own view is that in the short term, the economic effect would be negative.  But, one has to ask, is that a sufficient reason to vote for the status quo, as opposed to independence? It is certainly true that the Union of the parliaments in 1707 was largely for economic reasons, between the failure of the Darien Scheme, and the little ice age (in particular the “Ill years” of the 1690’s) causing poor harvests. But how does that play now?

I’m old enough to recall the feeling in Scotland both after the devolution referendum of 1979 (which failed to deliver), and the one of 1997 which delivered the Holyrood parliament. After the first, there was a real feeling of failure: the Scottish Cringe was strong, and there was a strong impression that we had failed to stand up for ourselves at all. That contrasted with the feeling of elation in 1997: what had happened in between is hard to describe, but was surely a major change in the whole of Scottish culture. Now here we are, 17 years later, debating full independence. Is this a step too far, or the logical conclusion of earlier events?

What has happened I’d describe as a cultural renaissance. Arts, music, and science are stronger now than they have been in my memory. There’s a real feeling that we really can do this. But are we suffering from the optimism disease (see Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children)? Probably, but what is the alternative? There is undoubtedly a majority in Scotland in favour of Devo-Max (maximal powers for the Holyrood parliament, specifically fiscal autonomy), but this is not on offer: the question demands a straight yes/no answer (two alternative forced choice, in Psychological parlance). Can one believe politicians who say that this will come if there is a No vote? I suspect it’s a reasonable likelihood if the vote is near to 50/50, but that in itself begs another question – will Independence really be possible if the vote is 51:49 in favour?

There’s lots of fears and scaremongering on both sides of the argument: in my own area, science funding is seen as a major issue, pushing people towards No, but the UK is moving towards more and more applied research (and I don’t actually see a Scottish government behaving differently). I’m due to retire in a few years – will it affect my pension? But whether it does or not, is that a good reason to adjust my vote, if it will make Scotland a better place over the next few decades (by when I will be long gone, I suspect)?

In the end, I think Scotland will have a better future for going it alone. There’s lots of unanswered questions – but it’s not the case that these are all answered in the status quo either. And now I’ve done it: I’m abroad at a the ICANN 2014 conference 15-19 September, in Hamburg, so I had a postal vote, and I’ve now posted it. Alea iacta est, for me at least.

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